Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Colostomy Ear Redux

Andrew Bolt has a lot to say about Pauline Hanson's jail sentence in yesterday's Melbourne Hun. He begins:

JUDGE Patsy Wolfe seems to have done more harm than good in jailing Pauline Hanson for three years.

In sentencing Hanson for electoral fraud last week, the Queensland District Court Chief Judge declared: "Those crimes affected the confidence of people in the electoral process."

Really? Given the widespread revulsion against the imprisonment of One Nation's founder, I'd say "the confidence of people in the electoral process" has been damaged far more by what Wolfe has done.
[original emphasis]

After I got over the initial gob-smacking impact of this opening, I thought I might suggest to Ken Parish, that he send Bolt a friendly e-mail, explaining the separation of powers under the Westminster system, or at least the difference between the electoral process and the judicial process. On reflection, I decided that it wasn't a good idea; I'm sure Ken can find much more productive uses for his time. It wouldn't be fair to Ken to ask him to put his patience at risk in that way.

Bolt goes on to describe the public outcry that the martyrdom of Pauline has generated:

More than 8000 Herald Sun readers have rung our Voteline to protest. And the letters of other furious readers explain why, denouncing Hanson's sentence as "crazy", "a travesty", part of a "witchhunt", "absurd" and an attempt to shut Hanson up by "the powers that be".

Which naturally has the powers that be running for cover:

The politicians, particularly those who fought Hanson hardest, have scurried for shelter. None want to be linked to any imagined plot to hound Hanson out of politics and into prison.

The Labor Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, said it would have been "more humane and more applicable" to make Hanson do community service, instead of three years in jail.

Well, perhaps not all of them:

"This is not a politically driven decision, it's a legal decision," Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer tried to assure angry voters.

Reasonable bloke that he is, Andrew is prepared to concede Alex this point:

HE'S right, of course. The judge - and jury - handled this case strictly in accordance with the law.

Hanson and One Nation co-founder David Ettridge have been found by three different Queensland courts to have lied - or recklessly told untruths - in registering their party in that state.

Don't worry; that vague hissing noise you're hearing right now isn't tinnitus. It's the sound of Bolt's razor sharp intellect gliding down the middle of a long hair.

Under Queensland's laws, One Nation had to give the electoral commissioner a list of 500 party members in order to be registered there as a party, given it had no MP in state parliament to give it automatic party status. Instead, Hanson and Ettridge in 1997 gave a list of 1000 members of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement -- not members of the party itself, as Ettridge was filmed explaining.

In fact, One Nation's only real members were Hanson, Ettridge and David Oldfield (who was not charged). This was to stop anyone -- particularly the far-Right nutters circling them -- from stacking the membership of their vulnerable young party and hijacking it.

It seems to me that the word "other" went missing somewhere in that sentence but, as Andrew's notions of rationality are no doubt as idiosyncratic as his understanding of our political system and his understanding of the nature of lying, it's probably best to move on:

As Judge Wolfe said: "Any advantage received for (Hanson and Ettridge) was not suggested to be any benefit for you financially. The benefit was you continued to control the allocation of electoral funding and how the party was run."

What's coming next is another breathtakingly original Bolt insight, this time into the nature of political morality itself:

Still, however pure Hanson and Ettridge's motives were, the jury in this case was right to find them guilty of electoral fraud. ...

Which leads Andrew to a question that will probably haunt Ken Parish's nightmares for months to come:

... But while the two broke the letter of the law, did they break its spirit?

We have laws insisting a registered party have 500 members -- or a sitting MP -- so we stop crackpots and nuisances from sneaking on to the ballot paper and confusing us with grand-sounding parties made up of no one but them, their dog and a crooked rule book.

Or perhaps no-one but them, their dog and a filing cabinet full of signed but undated unconditional resignations from the Party.

Indeed, prosecutor Brendan Campbell claimed that through their fraud, Hanson and Ettridge registered One Nation and gave it "a falsely claimed respectability".

Well, he would say that wouldn't he, but Andrew isn't having a bar of it:

Pardon? One Nation never had respectability -- or not with our political and media class -- and did brilliantly despite that. Or because of it.

No party has been so vilified. None have had their supporters so regularly threatened, spat on, abused and even punched. No party leader has been so viciously caricatured as a racist and a moron. Yet there's no doubt that in 1997, when Hanson registered her party in Queensland, that she had genuine support and deserved, morally at least, a place on the ballot paper for the coming state election.

She herself had already been elected to federal Parliament, which had allowed her to register One Nation, legally, as a national party, with the same party set-up and the same party constitution. Her support movement could name 1000 paying members in Queensland, and the polls showed many thousands of voters backed her, no matter how dumb her ideas or internally authoritarian her party.

IF Queensland's law was meant to stop such a party from offering itself to the voters, then not only is the law an ass, it's a dangerously undemocratic one.
[my emphasis]

This is Andrew at his most nuanced - Pauline Hanson may be dumb, but she's no moron. And once again there appears to be a missing word: "elite".

As it turned out, Hanson's One Nation went on to win a huge 23 per cent of the votes in the 1998 Queensland election, and nearly a million more in the federal election later that year.

The courts may insist One Nation was illegitimate, but many voters showed emphatically they disagreed.

If One Nation had been banned from standing in the state election, these people would have been robbed of the chance to vote for the party that most clearly spoke for them, whether a judge likes it or not.

Of course we can assume that most of the jury quite liked Pauline, on a personal level, and every juror no doubt felt heartbroken at having to bring in a guilty verdict against her. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them don't end up needing trauma counselling as a result of Judge Wolfe's sentence.

How badly so many One Nation voters wanted that choice, after watching Labor and the Liberals agree not to disagree on so many issues -- whether on immigration, multiculturalism or the death of country towns. Or, ironically given Hanson's troubles, on tougher sentences.

Hanson, for all her sins, forced the big parties to stop treating these voters like mushrooms, and that has to have restored the "confidence of people in the electoral process".

Sins Andrew? Back here you were telling us how pure she was. Never mind, let's get to the sorry ending of the Hanson tragedy:

BUT she's been crushed since by her blunders and by legal action. She's already had to repay the $500,000 of public money her party got for winning 23 per cent of the vote in the 1998 Queensland election, while being falsely registered. And now this: three years' jail.

More of Bolt's nuanced approach: she's no moron, just dumb enough to make a few blunders.

To protect us from what? From having a ramshackle yet popular new party stand in an election, to the rage of those grown fat and complacent? Thanks, but that's more protection than I want. More protection than we need, if we want to encourage new parties, new voices, new ideas.

I just wish he'd make up his mind.

Yes, Hanson lied, but, heavens, she's been punished enough -- so much, that it's "affected the confidence of people in the electoral process". Let her go.

Ken, I know it's a big ask, but I've reconsidered on that suggestion I was going to make. Maybe when you can fin a free moment ...

Afterword: although I've occasionally been accused elsewhere of "fisking" a major columnist or writer, I'm pretty sure that this is the first time I've produced a full-blown example of the genre. It was fun, in a tedious sort of way.

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